Women gave their men and boys – and their labour
Article published in Lifestyles 55
My father was a Second World War veteran and a member of the Benito Legion. In tribute to him, I became an associate member of the Charleswood Legion.
When I was a little girl, I used to pour over my Dad’s photo albums and I was enthralled looking at pictures of him and his comrades in uniform. I thought he looked so young and dashing. I was captivated by those pictures and never really understood why.
Later, as I grew up I recognized what sacrifices these young men had made for our freedom, and as a woman in politics I am keenly aware I would not have had this opportunity if it weren’t for those brave young men.
As we approach Remembrance Day I wear my red poppy proudly and I not only think about the men who fought in the war but the women who contributed to the war effort. During the war, women knitted socks, scarves and mittens, and prepared care packages to be sent overseas. There were wartime shortages, and the women had to adapt and be innovative with recipes to keep a family fed. They made clothes out of flour sacks, planted big gardens to supply fruits and vegetables for the family, canned produce, made jams and pickles to get us through winter.
In addition to food rations, there were restrictions on fabric and buttons needed for uniforms. Women had a hard time finding the seamed silk stockings in style at the time due to the amount of Canada’s silk and nylon required for the war effort. It was common practice for fashion-conscious women to draw a thin, black line on the back of their legs to emulate the look of the silk stockings.
With many of the men off fighting in the war, the role of homemaker was expanded to war-related volunteer efforts. The shortage of men also created other work opportunities, as women got jobs working in munitions factories. These were paid jobs, not much pay and long hours, but it did give women some financial independence they hadn’t had before.
Women’s auxiliaries were created in 1941, and originally the women were trained for administration and clerical duties in the army and air force. Later they became parachute riggers, lab assistants and eventually entered into the mechanical and electrical trades. Some drove ambulances and trucks, all jobs that were non-traditional women’s work.
Elsie MacGill was the first female in Canada to get an electrical engineering degree and she was the first woman aircraft designer in the world. She supervised the production of Hawker Hurricane fighter planes at the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Montreal, which employed 200 women and produced more than 1,450 aircraft during the war. (From the information in History Section, on the Veterans Affairs website.)
Many women became nurses and looked after the wounded. I can imagine as a young nurse it must have been traumatic to be tending to severe wounds of so many boys near your own age. I look at the young boys and girls now and it is hard to believe that it was kids their age that fought and died for our freedom.
The other women I think of are the mothers: the courageous mothers who let their sons go off to a war in a faraway land knowing they may not come back, and the anguish some endured when they received the dreaded telegram informing them their son had been killed in action. We must never forget the sacrifices that were made and never take our freedom for granted.
To all our Canadian armed forces – past and present – I salute you. In closing I quote the last paragraph of a poem written by Don Crawford, called Why I Wear a Poppy.
“And so, when we see a poppy worn,
let us reflect on the burden borne
by those who gave their very all
When asked to answer their country’s call
That we at home in peace might live.
Then wear a poppy! Remember – and Give!”